There is one simple reason UFC president Dana White changed his mind about promoting female fighters: He realized he could make money.
On Saturday night, for the first time, women will square off in a UFC fight. And we're not just talking about some undercard. The battle between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche, for the women's MMA bantamweight championship, is the headline bout for UFC 157, a pay-per-view event.
Or, if you want to look at it this way: All the men fighting that night are merely the warm-up act for the women.
How about that?
White's critics think he should have featured female fighters sooner, as other promotion companies have done. But here's the beautiful thing: Rousey versus Carmouche is an organic moment for women's sports.
Naysayers often argue female athletes are force-fed to the marketplace, even when there aren't enough fans to support them. Nobody can say that about Saturday's fight, though -- at least not if you're being honest with yourself.
Female fighters have created a market for themselves. They have toiled in obscurity for years, undercard after undercard, to prove they can fight -- to prove people are interested in watching them fight.
"I think the timing for this is perfect," Carmouche told espnW. "Women are rising up more and more from the ranks. They're finding gyms they can train at. The pool of talent is exactly where it needs to be to have marketable fights in the coming years."
Many MMA fans never thought they'd see this day. In 2011, White went on record as saying women would "never" fight in the UFC, which is the largest promotion company for the sport. His reasoning was capitalism more than anything else: He just wasn't convinced people would pay to watch women kick and knock each other around in the Octagon.
Of course, that was before the emergence of Rousey, a pure fighter with the kind of dynamic personality -- and, yeah, the looks -- to bring women's MMA to the masses. She is a crossover star (see here and here), a bronze medalist in judo at the 2008 Summer Olympics who has been fighting, in one discipline or another, all of her life.
She is a fighter who forced White's hand.
But this isn't just about Rousey or about the UFC aligning itself with someone who could soon become a household name. If that were the case, the UFC would have teamed with Gina Carano, the MMA star turned movie actress, when she was fighting five years ago.
That didn't happen. The UFC never featured Carano because the company's decision-makers couldn't envision anything more than a one-off fight, a gimmick. At the time, the pool of female fighters wasn't deep enough to sustain a women's division within the UFC. But today, in addition to Rousey, who is undoubtedly the conductor driving this engine, there are a handful of female fighters -- Carmouche, Cristiane Santos (aka "Cyborg"), Miesha Tate -- who can provide serious competition for the foreseeable future.
Simply put: The UFC wouldn't have backed this fight if White & Co. would be anxiously watching, nails chewed to the quick, and praying Rousey wins.
Sure, it's better for the UFC if Rousey does win. She is undefeated in her six bouts, and won all of them using the same ferocious move: the arm bar. But it won't be a big setback if she loses to Carmouche, a former Marine sergeant and Iraq war veteran who is 8-2 as an MMA pro. On the contrary, if Carmouche -- aka "Girl-Rilla" -- defies the odds (she is a 12-1 underdog) and defeats Rousey, the UFC will market the heck out of a rematch.
Former MMA star Chuck Liddell, who now has dozens of TV and movie cameos on his résumé, knows precisely how the UFC works. "Bottom line," he said, "if people didn't want to watch this fight, the UFC wouldn't put it out there."
It's all about the money.
And in this case, that's pretty cool.